Saturday, November 7, 2009

Don't microwave a steak.

One of the hardest parts about going on weekend pass isn’t returning. I love to come back. Last weekend, before I even left my parents’ house I was being bombarded by messages and emails from the guys at the ranch who wanted to know when I would be back, I had been away from home for two days and we had a lot of catching up to do.

The hard part about returning is the fact that I know how long it will be before I return for a break, and the minutes after I return are the farthest minutes I will have from the next pass. Waiting!

There’s a lot of waiting in recovery. It doesn’t just happen. If only we could take a magic pill and it would all be fixed! We’d probably have to open a new rehab with people addicted to magic pills. But it takes time. I say this because one of the hardest parts for anyone who is living an addiction is waiting.

(note: I’d like you to notice I stopped saying ‘suffering an addiction’. I started using this term in an essay to my case manager a month ago and he asked me to explain it and my answer is this, I don’t feel like I need to ‘suffer’ from addiction forever. I have one, and I live with it, but it shouldn’t have to make me suffer. He liked the answer.)

Anyway, waiting is real tough. In fact, I haven’t written this blog in a week and a half because I’ve been super busy getting ready to phase in a couple weeks, and so you’ve had to wait; anxiously, I am sure (riiiight)

Part of what makes it difficult to wait is the immediate gratification offered by alcohol or drugs or tobacco or sex or gambling or food or shopping or whatever you are addicted to. Addiction becomes much easier when you can just say to yourself, ‘This is all too stressful, I think I need to go have a smoke,’ and you feel the immediate effects.

Its very interesting to me that one of the best tools in rehab isn’t the groups, isn’t the meetings, isn’t the therapy, it’s the waiting. Sometimes it’s ENDLESS, all the damn waiting. But it takes nearly a year for your brain to detoxify itself from the saturation of alcohol, sometimes it takes longer. Nothing can speed this up, nothing ‘fixes’ it except time. It’s the closest thing you’ll ever get to a magic pill.

Around this point in my sobriety (about 6 months) Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome should be setting in. This is your brain’s last ditch attempt to convince your body that it needs to drink or do drugs or smoke or whatever. At about 6 months your brain is beginning to realize that you aren’t going to be giving it the immediate gratification it’s been expecting and it begins to play tricks on you.

During PAWS, the brain begins to mimic phantom inebriation or phantom intoxication or phantom satisfaction. Its the brain’s way of ‘reminding’ the body, “Hey, remember how good it felt?” This is where the rubber meets the road for addicts, this is where most who will fall off the wagon just decide to pull the wagon over and get a frosty beverage. This is when a smoker will most likely begin smoking, a drinker will take a drink or a gambler will make a ‘friendly wager.’

Its also when it is the most dangerous because the body’s physical tolerance is so low yet the mental tolerance has skyrocketed and many who do relapse in a PAWS episode don’t come out of it with any forgiveness from their body. Many die.

I’m a little bit afraid of this. I haven’t had any real cravings or any real phantom inebriation, but I am clumsier than usual and slightly more irritable and having some sleeplessness and these are symptoms of PAWS. Because I wasn’t a daily drinker, the effects may be less pronounced, but that doesn’t mean that I am not equally as vulnerable as the daily drinker to grabbing ‘just one.’ And the cure for PAWS.... you just gotta wait.

Yes, can you believe that? More waiting! Ugh!

Brian just phased this week, he’s the first of my friends to phase and he’s ready to go to work. He has been looking for a job for a month now. He finally got an interview and then we had snow, it got canceled, they didnt call back to reschedule for three days, then they did and he went but the person who was to interview him was sick, so he had to wait longer. Then he had the interview and they asked him to take a drug test (which he is excited about because this is one drug test he KNOWS he doesn’t have to worry about), and now he is waiting to hear a start date. Waiting.

As an addict who is being forced to wait, he is absolutely miserable to be around I might add. He obsesses on it, he can’t stop thinking or talking about it. Curtis quipped, “I hope they hurry and call Brian back, it will be good for all of us so we don’t have to go ahead and kill him like we are all secretly planning.”

Lane is waiting to take his math entrance exams so he can start school in the spring semester. He is waiting because he wants to get into the math he needs for his degree, and not have to take a refresher course which will require money and more waiting!

I am ready to phase, I am waiting to start work too. I am waiting to have money, pay my parents for helping keep me afloat here, waiting to start living like a normal person. It’s killing me. I am waiting for someone to hurry up and leave so I can move to the other dorm. Once I phase in a couple weeks it will be the last time I ever phase in this program. But I gotta wait.

I think back on all this progress. My body and mind are in excellent shape. My heart is in great shape, my spirit is ALIVE again. I don’t feel polluted mentally or physically. Hell, even my teeth are clean sub-gingivally (that means they fold the gum back, scrape the tooth and fold it back, yes, it hurts like a motha!!) When I get back, The Drover-v2.0 is gonna be one hell-uv-a-guy, friend, son, brother, uncle, employee. And guess what, you’re all just gonna have to wait; just like me.

And all this good feeling is part of the PAWS period in recovery also. Your brain, in all it’s sneakiness, is telling my body – “OK, um, so maybe you don’t remember how good it felt to be drunk.... but you feel GREAT now, you’re cured, go on with your life.”

That feeling of well-being can not get out of control. The guys on the ranch call this the phase 3 slide. It’s when the guys in phase 3 (the phase I am entering) begin to forget the bad that addiction caused, their brain begins to remember the good. We feel great, feel attractive, feel smart, look better than we have in years. We slide. Boom roasted, relapse.

The hard part is staying with the program and working the program because, as I said earlier, it takes at least a full year for your brain to detoxify. I’m only 6 months in to it. The euphoric confidence I am feeling is not real. I firmly believe that if you are trying to change a lifelong behavior pattern, an addiction, a year is a minimum. You can’t relapse if you haven’t been sober for at least 365 days. You can’t ‘start’ smoking again if you haven’t stopped for at least 365 days. Neurochemically, your brain is still under the influence of your addiction and absolute detoxification can take up to 7 years.

It’s a little cliche to say that its worth it to wait, but it is. My sister is finally going to get her chemistry degree after a decade in school. My parent’s are beginning to think about retirement, I can run 5 miles a day but when I started here my goal was to be able to run ONCE to the dairy barn without stopping (um, 200 yeards - shaddup, thats far). Sobriety is like that. It takes a lot of waiting, and thinking, and dare I say it, praying. But eventually, one day you do run past the dairy barn.

Take a steak and throw it in the microwave for 5 minutes and it comes out cooked, but its jerky-like. Its tough, it has no flavor, it does nothing for your pallet. Now take a steak and put it in a crock pot. It takes 12-15 hours to cook. But its juicy, it has flavor, it satisfies the pallet.

One night right before I came to the ranch, I was sauced and my mom went to pick me up to have me stay with her. A rescue of sorts. I asked my mom, “Why is this me? Why do I have this? Why do I have to be the one who drinks?” and she didn’t have a real answer that could satisfy me. Despite what we sometimes think, our parents are only human and sometimes as lost as we are. I was seeking an answer and she didn’t have one. I remember thinking that night that I would need to figure it out. But I would have to wait. Again with all the damn waiting.

I waited and since then I’ve realized the answer was in the question. The curiosity about why I was like that was what lead me to seek help – I couldn't get an answer, so I began to live this question. Its why I work on this all day and night when I am here. I am passionate about understanding this malfunction in my nature. There may not be a magic pill of an answer, but in the quest to understand myself because I dared to ask the question, I am healing.

In all that asking, I’ve begun to conclude that I feel like being here is preparing me for the rest of my life. I feel like I am about to live some real blessings and getting the upper hand on this addiction thing was just to get me ready for it. The weight of real blessings will crush you if you aren’t ready for them. The journey to get them just fortifies your ability to receive them. And, well, you’ve got to wait. I spoke recently to Bob, a trusted chaplain and he helped me make some sense of all this.

Like so many people, I used to believe that every bright morning concluded with a dark night, and now, I’ve learned that every dark night is concluded by a bright morning. You can’t see it coming, dark is dark, then its light, and you’ve just got to wait.

Bob passed me something that Sister Maria Rilke wrote:
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart,
Try to love the questions themselves,
Do not now seek the answers, they may not be given because you would not be able to live them, And the point is to live everything,
So live the questions now,
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it,
Live along some distant day into the answers.

There you have it, don’t expect the answer, release yourself from ‘suffering’ from your addiction, and quit microwaving your steak; live the questions, live your addiction, live for the juicy meat in the crock pot.

And how do you do this? Well, you’ve just got to wait.

DAYS SOBER: 187 (6 months, 2 days)

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